BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - After a grand jury failed to indict the New York police officer who killed an unarmed black man with a chokehold, the U.S. government vowed to investigate.
The decision Wednesday afternoon by a grand jury on Staten Island not to indict white New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the July 2014 death of Eric Garner sparked protest around the city.
With the New York City medical examiner having ruled Garner's death a homicide, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said late Wednesday that the Eastern District of New York and the FBI will step in.
A gut-wrenching video of the fatal chokehold on YouTube shows police trying to arrest 43-year-old Garner on suspicion of selling bootleg cigarettes near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal on July 17.
Pantaleo takes Garner down with a chokehold, and other officers pile on as Garner gasps, at least nine times, "I can't breathe."
The federal investigation teams Holder up with his would-be successor in New York's Eastern District. Brooklyn-based U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch is awaiting confirmation to become the first black female U.S. attorney general. Her court oversees matters in Staten Island, Brooklyn's neighboring borough.
Holder said Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice "will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation" into Garner's death.
"Mr. Garner's death is one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect," the attorney general added.
The comment invokes the recent decision by a grand jury in St. Louis not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in August.
"It is for their sake as well that we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust we have seen," Holder said.
Garner's family filed preliminary papers in October to begin the process of filing a wrongful death civil suit against the officer and the New York City Police Department.
In his statement, Holder called for nonviolence in reaction to the news.
"I urge all those inclined to demonstrate tonight and in the days ahead to remain peaceful in their demonstrations and not to engage in activities that deflect our attention from the very serious matters our nation must confront," he said.
The grand jury, empanelled in September, investigated Garner's death for more than four months, considering 38 interviews from 22 different witnesses, officials said.
Pantaleo was the only cop charged.
The incident prompted New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to review his department's use of force.
On Monday, while the Garner grand jury was still deliberating, President Barack Obama called for a plan to "strengthen community policing."
He said both incidents have "grabbed the attention of the nation and the world, and have highlighted the importance of strong, collaborative relationships between local police and the communities that they protect."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio - whose wife is black and whose children are biracial - derided the grand jury's decision on Wednesday.
"This is a deeply emotional day," he said. "This is a subject that is never far from my family's minds - or our hearts."
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